“Monumental” change to career and technical education could tip the scales for workforce development
Pennsylvania’s officials and educators hope Act 76-2019, a radical overhaul of the commonwealth’s career and technical education laws will reinvent how young people prepare for the workforce.
The new legislation signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf in October 2019, promises equal access to manufacturing and industry employers at high school college and career events and will provide a centralized database for resources, jobs, training, industry trends, and income predictions anticipated to roll out in June.
“This [includes] the most significant law changes in over 30 years,” said Rep. Craig Staats (R-Bucks). Staats sponsored the new legislation in an effort to “…address the mounting college debt crisis.”
He serves Pennsylvania’s 145th Legislative District, which covers Upper Bucks County.
For years the single biggest problem in manufacturing has been talent, according to Jack Pfunder, a retired manufacturing professional and founder of Pfunder Consulting Group, LLC. He said because schools and employers aren’t accustomed to having direct relationships, organizations like the Upper Bucks Chamber of Commerce are in a unique position to bridge the gap. “Somebody needs to be in the middle,” he said.
According to a Forbes report, American young adults shouldered a crushing $1.5 trillion in student loan debt in 2019, the highest student debt number ever recorded, ranking second behind home mortgage debt in the U.S. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/zackfriedman/2019/02/25/student-loan-debt-statistics-2019/#7e60362c133f)
“Companies are desperate for good employees and they want to get into the high schools and the middle schools to help educate [youngsters] about what jobs look like,” Pfunder explained.
Pfunder conceded lingering, and negative images still surround career and technical education and trade jobs, known in previous decades as vocational school or vo-tech.
But high tech manufacturing, including precision medical device machining, CNC technology, and tool-making, aim to dispel the “old-school perception” of dirty shop floors and dull daily work.
New jobs and emerging industries demand STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.
Qualified employees are rewarded with great pay and career advancement, often without college degree requirements.
“Companies will hire right out of high school, [whereas] ten years ago they wouldn’t,” Pfunder said.
Pfunder said chambers of commerce are a natural fit to bridge the gap between industry, government and educators.
Established relationships between chambers of commerce, educators and business members can help facilitate critical connections in making necessary introductions.
“The chamber can easily be that conduit,” Pfunder said.
Students at Upper Bucks County Technical School (UBCTS) know first-hand the importance of building industry relationships.
From nationwide competitions to daily hands-on training in agriculture, health care and hospitality sectors, students have opportunities to meet employers and see what the future looks like.
Thane Goetz, a UBCTS sophomore studying CNC machining from Quakertown, said his robust involvement with SkillsUSA has been eye-opening.
“We do fundraising, learn professional skills [like] job interviewing, and [participate in] charity events,” Goetz explained.
UBCTS serves students in Palisades, Pennridge and Quakertown.
Goetz said UBCTS models its process to “replicate” SkillsUSA district competition formats so students are immediately prepared to compete against their peers in district, region and all state competitions, with the goal of going to nationals.
SkillsUSA is a non-profit organization serving roughly 395,000 students in career and technical education across the United States.
“We’re the only school that follows the SkillsUSA model” to prepare for competition, Goetz said.
The Upper Bucks Chamber celebrated this monumental legislation at the Upper Bucks County Technical School with Rep. Craig Staats for a ceremonial signing of his Act 76-2019 legislation. UBCC continues to be the conduit and bridge for education and industry, ensuring opportunities for our future workforce, and answering the call of our employers for a prepared workforce. If your business is interested in joining the UBCC workforce initiative, please contact Danielle Bodnar 215-536-3211.
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